Last week, Musselburgh residents attended a public meeting organised by Colin Beattie MSP to protest against East Lothian Council plans to build a residential children’s house.
People with care experience from East Lothian came prepared to speak about the positive difference communities have made to them. When Mr Beattie asked if the meeting would like to hear from them, those in attendance emphatically said “No”. I saw the colour drain from care-experienced faces. Regardless of the intention of the words, the feeling young people were left with was ‘they don’t care about us. They don’t want us’.
More than 85 per cent of young people are taken into care because they experience neglect and abuse. They have done nothing wrong. Young people tell us frequently that being taken into care is a confusing and an unsettling time. Their mental health can suffer, their achievements in school often drop. They want love and not to be stigmatised for being in care. It is then, more than ever, that a young person needs their community on their side.
Instead, what young people can face from their community is stigma and judgement. Rather than embracing young people who desperately want their love, communities reject them.
Those in attendance at the meeting were quick to explain that their issues did not lie with the young people but with the building itself. Such assurances did not convince those in the room who have been in care. They told me that they have been feeling this masked prejudice for years.
Young people carry the scars of this kind of rejection through life. They are judged for something over which they have no control and can’t change. Stigma created by society leads to people with care experience being ashamed of their identity, affecting their self-confidence, damaging their life chances.
If those attending the meeting genuinely believed that their issues with the children’s house were not related to the young people who will be staying there, why did they silence them? Had residents chosen to hear from East Lothian’s young people, I believe they would have been immensely proud of them and come closer to understanding the difference that a positive, informed community can make.
Equalities legislation makes prejudice against people because of their gender, sexuality, race or disability illegal. The events of East Lothian have made it clear that equalities legislation to stop people with care experience suffering the same prejudice is urgently needed.
Who Cares? Scotland is urging members of the public to take the Pledge 2 Listen and commit to ending the stigma of being in care (www.pledge2listen.com).
• Duncan Dunlop is chief executive of Who Cares? Scotland